Authors: M.C. Beaton
M. C. Beaton
is the author of the hugely successful Agatha Raisin and Hamish Macbeth series, as well as a quartet of Edwardian murder mysteries featuring heroine Lady Rose Summer, several Regency romance series and a stand-alone murder mystery,
The Skeleton in the Closet
– all published by Constable & Robinson. She left a full-time career in journalism to turn to writing, and now divides her time between the Cotswolds and Paris. Visit
for more, or follow M. C. Beaton on Twitter: @mc_beaton.
Titles by M. C. Beaton
The Poor Relation
Lady Fortescue Steps Out · Miss Tonks Turns to Crime · Mrs Budley Falls from Grace Sir Philip’s Folly · Colonel Sandhurst to the Rescue · Back in Society
A House for the Season
The Miser of Mayfair · Plain Jane · The Wicked Godmother Rake’s Progress · The Adventuress · Rainbird’s Revenge
The Six Sisters
Minerva · The Taming of Annabelle · Deirdre and Desire Daphne · Diana the Huntress · Frederica in Fashion
Edwardian Murder Mysteries
Snobbery with Violence · Hasty Death · Sick of Shadows Our Lady of Pain
The Travelling Matchmaker
Emily Goes to Exeter · Belinda Goes to Bath · Penelope Goes to Portsmouth Beatrice Goes to Brighton · Deborah Goes to Dover · Yvonne Goes to York
Agatha Raisin and the Quiche of Death · Agatha Raisin and the Vicious Vet Agatha Raisin and the Potted Gardener · Agatha Raisin and the Walkers of Dembley Agatha Raisin and the Murderous Marriage · Agatha Raisin and the Terrible Tourist Agatha Raisin and the Wellspring of Death · Agatha Raisin and the Wizard of Evesham Agatha Raisin and the Witch of Wyckhadden
Agatha Raisin and the Fairies of Fryfam · Agatha Raisin and the Love from Hell Agatha Raisin and the Day the Floods Came
Agatha Raisin and the Curious Curate · Agatha Raisin and the Haunted House Agatha Raisin and the Deadly Dance · Agatha Raisin and the Perfect Paragon Agatha Raisin and Love, Lies and Liquor
Agatha Raisin and Kissing Christmas Goodbye
Agatha Raisin and a Spoonful of Poison · Agatha Raisin: There Goes the Bride Agatha Raisin and the Busy Body · Agatha Raisin: As the Pig Turns Agatha Raisin: Hiss and Hers · Agatha Raisin and the Christmas Crumble
Death of a Gossip · Death of a Cad · Death of an Outsider Death of a Perfect Wife · Death of a Hussy · Death of a Snob Death of a Prankster · Death of a Glutton · Death of a Travelling Man Death of a Charming Man · Death of a Nag · Death of a Macho Man Death of a Dentist · Death of a Scriptwriter · Death of an Addict A Highland Christmas · Death of a Dustman · Death of a Celebrity Death of a Village · Death of a Poison Pen · Death of a Bore Death of a Dreamer · Death of a Maid · Death of a Gentle Lady Death of a Witch · Death of a Valentine · Death of a Sweep Death of a Kingfisher · Death of Yesterday
The Skeleton in the Closet
The Agatha Raisin Companion
M. C. Beaton
Constable & Robinson Ltd.
55–56 Russell Square
London WC1B 4HP
First electronic edition published 2011
by RosettaBooks LLC, New York
First published in the UK by Canvas,
an imprint of Constable & Robinson Ltd., 2013
Copyright © M. C. Beaton, 1981
The right of M. C. Beaton to be identified as the author of this work has been asserted by her in accordance with the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988
All rights reserved. This book is sold subject to the condition that it shall not, by way of trade or otherwise, be lent, resold, hired out or otherwise circulated in any form of binding or cover other than that in which it is published and without a similar condition including this condition being imposed on the subsequent purchaser.
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents are either the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or to actual events or locales is entirely coincidental.
A copy of the British Library Cataloguing in
Publication Data is available from the British Library
ISBN: 978-1-47210-120-4 (ebook)
Printed and bound in the UK
1 3 5 7 9 10 8 6 4 2
Cover design copyright © Constable & Robinson
To the ladies of President Street, Brooklyn…
God bless ’em!
Rachel Fevola, Elizabeth Cassarino,
Paula Mazze, Mary Nocerino,
Frances Puglisi, Ann Marie Parascondola,
and Rosemarie Sellitto
It was not that Susie Burke didn’t have dreams of her own. She would have been a very unusual seventeen-year-old if she did not. But her dreams were very much of this world, of the comfortable, jolly young man she would marry, of the cottage they would live in, of the sundial in their pocket-size garden, of the birds building nests in the thatch above their heads.
But her mother’s dreams of the afterworld never failed to embarrass her, and Mrs. Christina Burke’s dreams were always stronger after church service.
As soon as she had unpinned her velour hat and handed her otter-skin coat to the parlormaid, she was off among the angels. The vicar, Mr. Pontifax, had preached a sermon on the death of a Mrs. Amy Bennet, a local washerwoman, famed for regular church attendance. Mrs. Bennet, the vicar had said, would surely now be in her well-earned place at the right hand of God, and this had troubled Mrs. Burke sorely, since she felt obscurely that that hallowed place was reserved for herself.
“I ask you, Susie,” she began as she straightened her fringe of false curls, “do you really think one has to mix socially with one’s inferiors in Heaven?” She rushed on before Susie could reply. “After all, the good Lord put us on this earth in our appointed stations, so why should He not do the same in His world? I would not know what to say to a woman like Amy Bennet.
“After all, good soul though she was, she was undoubtedly
. Christ says that His Father has ‘many mansions.’ Perhaps that means that the lower orders will be in one place and us in another. But then that does not seem very fair either, for surely well-bred people like ourselves, although middle-class in this world, have a right to mingle with the aristocracy in the next. I would so like to meet the Duke of Wellington and ask him whether he ever actually had an affair with Lady Shelley. I am sure he did not, of course, so the question would not be sinful. Nonetheless I cannot help feeling that Mr. Pontifax has become uncommonly Low.
“I had such a splendid wedding planned for you, Susie. I thought we might perhaps invite the Bellings to attend, for although Mr. Belling is in tea, it is said he is a second cousin to the Marquess of Warminster, several times removed.”
“I don’t know how you can plan my wedding, Mama,” Susie pointed out reasonably. “Not only am I not engaged to be married, but I am not even walking out with anyone.”
Her mother swung around. “And neither you will, Susie Burke, if you do not make
push. Now, young Basil Bryant is calling this evening to speak to your papa. He is reading for the bar and may even be a judge. In fact, I am sure he
be a judge. I can see him sitting in the Old Bailey, solemnly putting the black cap on his head and sending some dreadful murderer to the gallows.”
“As a matter of fact, so can I,” said Susie dryly. She still remembered Basil as a spotty schoolboy who tormented little girls and cats.
“Well, then,” said Mrs. Burke, brightening, “go and put on your blue silk and brush your hair well before he comes. You are so pretty, Susie—quite like myself as a girl—but so quiet and shy that nobody notices you. You may borrow my rouge, as your face is a little pale, but do not tell Papa. It is not necessary to bother him with these little sophistries.
“Dear me. Amy Bennet at the right hand of God. It doesn’t bear thinking of!”
Susie escaped to the privacy of her room, and Mrs. Burke, finding that Susie had gone, wrenched her mind back to the everyday world and went in search of her husband.
Dr. Joseph Burke was sitting in his study, drinking a large glass of Wincarnis tonic wine and studying a sheaf of patients’ bills. He was a thickset man with grizzled hair and a majestic sable beard of which he was inordinately proud. He had the reputation among his patients of being a very wise man, since he hardly ever said anything original, confining his remarks to clichés and platitudes. His patients, in the main, came from the overworked and underpaid classes and therefore were never in any mental condition to appreciate a witty doctor.
He was a good man in his way, and although snobbery was his ruling passion, he successfully managed to keep it to himself most of the time.
He and his wife were tolerably comfortable together. They had never been in love with each other, or anyone else for that matter, and therefore had nothing to be disappointed about.
He looked amiably enough at his wife, as he would have looked at a favorite piece of furniture—comfortably familiar, slightly worn, yet promising a good few years more service.
“I’m worried about Susie,” said Mrs. Burke, pacing up and down the room so that her husband might admire her still-slim figure. At each turn she kicked out her taffeta skirts, which were edged with a deep border of fox fur. “She is still a child, admittedly, but she should already be thinking along the lines of an advantageous marriage.”
“Quite so, Mrs. Burke,” agreed her husband. “Marriages are not made in Heaven.”
“Just as well,” commented his wife irreverently. “I cannot help but feel that the Son of God was a teensy bit radical.”
“Take not the name of the Lord thy God in vain,” said Dr. Burke, taking another swig at his Wincarnis. Mrs. Burke gave him a mutinous look. She had long imagined her own entry into Heaven as a sort of presentation at court, and that wretched Mr. Pontifax had gone and spoiled it all.
“I shall sound out young Bryant this evening,” said Dr. Burke ponderously. “I feel he is not indifferent to our Susie. Perhaps she would fare better if we arranged a marriage for her. She has no mind of her own. She is”—here he made a tremendous mental effort—“lying
, so to speak, and it is up to us to plant a seed therein.”
“Exactly,” agreed Mrs. Burke, struck anew by her husband’s wisdom.
Upstairs, the subject of their discussion sat at her dressing table with her elbows propped on the glass top and stared at herself dreamily in the looking glass.
“Oh, you shouldn’t say such things, Mr. Bryant,” said Susie coyly, flirting with her reflection. Then she heaved a sigh.
It’s no good
, she thought.
He’ll always be horrible little Basil to me
Her reflection stared back at her in sad agreement, a serious girl with long nutmeg-brown hair and enormous golden-brown eyes in a heart-shaped face. Her dress was of a pretty and becoming shade of pink, but it was rather short, reaching only to her ankles, and had no waistline but a high yoke embellished with babyish frills. It was a suitable dress for a twelve-year-old girl going to a party, but for a seventeen-year-old miss it was decidedly unfortunate. Her hair was confined in two bunches tied with pink ribbons. The blue silk she was to wear that evening in honor of Basil was designed on similar lines.
The man she
would like to marry, thought Susie dreamily, would be very kind to animals. He would have a square, honest, homely face, and he would smoke a pipe under the old elm in the cottage garden in the evening while she leaned on the back of his chair. They would have a dog and two cats and perhaps some chickens. They would have a cow called Bluebell, who would wear a straw hat covered with roses in the summer. She could never imagine there being any children in her dream world. Susie was still too much of a child herself.